Bon Voy­age – Cruis­ing va­ca­tions have be­come big busi­ness

Fancy a va­ca­tion afloat? From lux­ury lin­ers to in­ti­mate river boats, cruis­ing has be­come big busi­ness

Business Traveler (USA) - - INSIDE -

Wa­ter-borne hol­i­days have be­come a peren­nial leisure time fa­vorite for many trav­el­ers. Cruis­ing essen­tially comes in two fla­vors – the deep-sea or river va­ri­ety.You can book di­rect with the op­er­a­tor or via a spe­cial­ist cruise agent. And, con­ve­niently, you can spend two weeks abroad with­out chang­ing money from dol­lars.Your ship docks, you join a tour, or just take a walk, and then re­turn.

For reg­u­lars from the UK to the US, Cu­nard – which has been op­er­at­ing the At­lantic since 1840 – has a Queen Mary 2 be­tween Southamp­ton and NewYork that al­lows you to travel by air in one di­rec­tion and by sea in the other. Price-wise, it is much the same as fly­ing on a pre­mium ticket. This year, there are 11 pas­sages in each di­rec­tion. Out of Southamp­ton is the best for Brits, with no air pas­sen­ger duty to pay, and the ar­rival in NewYork, sail­ing past the Statue of Lib­erty, is spec­tac­u­lar. Cu­nard cer­tainly knows how to keep its cus­tomers happy, and busy, if re­quired – even young­sters, who have their own area and spe­cially qual­i­fied staff.

Other com­pa­nies cross the At­lantic in the spring from North Amer­ica and the other way in the au­tumn. It’s a good way to get a taste for cruis­ing, and the op­er­a­tors of­fer a busy on­board en­ter­tain­ment pro­gram, fran­chise spas and well-equipped gyms. WiFi at sea is also get­ting bet­ter and bet­ter.

Spoiled for Choice

When choos­ing a cruise far from home, there are a num­ber of fac­tors to con­sider. How much do you want to spend? Would you pre­fer deep-sea or river cruis­ing? Are you happy to fly to or from your start or end port em­barka­tions? Or maybe you want to fly to just one des­ti­na­tion?

Ship choice is vast, rang­ing from big lin­ers with 2,500-plus pas­sen­gers and medium-sized ves­sels hold­ing 1,250 up­wards, to some­thing in the bou­tique class, which can mean from 50 guests to 750. What­ever size you choose, board­ing and de­par­ture are swift and easy, and usu­ally much bet­ter than air­ports.

You can cruise across the North At­lantic, Scan­di­navia, the Mediter­ranean, the Caribbean, Alaska, North and South Amer­ica, the Far East, An­tipodes Is­lands and the Pa­cific. New ar­eas are be­ing slated for sea hol­i­days all the time, and world cruises are prov­ing more and more pop­u­lar.

Do you want a cruise that takes in a new port ev­ery day, or that has a day at sea and then a day in port? Do you want to va­ca­tion with chil­dren (yours and oth­ers’) or with­out? There are cruise lines that ac­com­mo­date both mar­kets. Would you rather dine at a fixed time with the same com­pany at each meal or at a time that suits you? Some of­fer both. Note that smok­ing is usu­ally re­stricted to cer­tain deck ar­eas or a ci­gar lounge.

Would you con­sider a bud­get cruise or do you want five-star lux­ury? The re­quire­ments of both are well catered to. Would you be happy with an in­side cabin (with no win­dows), or would you want an out­side one with views? Be aware that a cabin with a bal­cony can eas­ily dou­ble the cost of the trip.

As part of their mar­ket­ing ef­forts, many com­pa­nies of­fer spe­cial­ized cruises, typ­i­cally ded­i­cated to cook­ing, wine tast­ing, mu­sic, theatre, his­tory, pol­i­tics and sport. Crys­tal Cruises of­ten has a golf pro­fes­sional on board who will plan ahead to visit ma­jor venues at each port of call. Royal Caribbean of­fers golf sim­u­la­tors on ten of its ves­sels, each with a se­lec­tion of 20 cour­ses. Most ships have putting greens, too.

Don’t be put off if you have a dis­abil­ity – the cruise com­pa­nies were among the first mem­bers of the leisure trade to re­al­ize there was a big mar­ket for peo­ple with lim­ited, or no, walk­ing abil­ity. The same goes for those with di­etary re­quire­ments; chefs are keen to meet guests’per­sonal needs, and the lat­est ships have some spec­tac­u­lar restau­rants.

There’s no need to worry about fall­ing ill at sea, ei­ther. It’s re­quired that you be cov­ered by ad­e­quate travel in­sur­ance, but the med­i­cal fa­cil­i­ties on mod­ern ships are ex­cep­tional.Vir­tu­ally ev­ery ship of any size has at least one full-time doc­tor on board, and he­li­copter evac­u­a­tion is not un­known in emer­gency cases.

Go with the flow

River cruis­ing is an en­tirely dif­fer­ent con­cept, with the largest ves­sels – in Europe any­way – lim­ited to 200 pas­sen­gers. It should re­ally be com­pared with car, bus or train tours, with­out the pack­ing and un­pack­ing ev­ery night and ac­com­mo­da­tions that travel with you. An­other big plus – you can’t get sea­sick – al­though, in fair­ness to the deep-sea fra­ter­nity, the lat­est ocean-go­ing ships with ad­vanced tech­nol­ogy of­fer very smooth sail­ing.

The Danube and Rhine (and its trib­u­taries) were the great com­mer­cial wa­ter­ways of Europe in cen­turies gone by. The Volga, for ex­am­ple, links Moscow and St Peters­burg, and great me­dieval ci­ties were built at Euro­pean rivers’cross­ing points. Rivers also wend through spec­tac­u­lar scenery, in­clud­ing the Black For­est Gorge and the wine country bor­der­ing the Douro and Rhône.

Most river pack­ages are fully in­clu­sive of day­time ex­cur­sions, on­board meals and the ser­vice of an ex­pert cruise di­rec­tor. Cabin sizes are lim­ited, but you will have at least a pri­vate shower/ bath­room, and pri­vate bal­conies are much in vogue.

Some ships squeeze in three restau­rants, but even­ing ac­tiv­i­ties tend to be lim­ited to a lec­ture on the next day’s pro­gram, a res­i­dent pi­anist or re­gional en­ter­tain­ers join­ing for a few hours. Emer­ald River Cruises has in­tro­duced an in­door pool with a roof that folds back, be­com­ing a cin­ema at night.

All river ships have large, un­en­cum­bered top decks suit­able for sun­bathing, the oc­ca­sional buf­fet din­ner and some­times a pool. But the de­sign has to be clever, and as eco­nom­i­cal with space as pos­si­ble. This is be­cause the ves­sels have to pass un­der bridges when rivers are flow­ing at their peak – usu­ally this prob­lem oc­curs in the win­ter, but not al­ways. Squeez­ing un­der­neath when the wa­ter has risen to its max­i­mum level can prove en­ter­tain­ing.

It’s im­pos­si­ble to get lost on a river cruiser, as it has only three decks and a sin­gle cor­ri­dor be­tween the cab­ins. Em­bark­ing and dis­em­bark­ing could not be sim­pler, as the boats of­ten dock in the cen­ter of a city – Dus­sel­dorf or Avi­gnon, for ex­am­ple. Am­s­ter­dam is at the head of the Rhine, but is also the start­ing point for trips through the Dutch canals and the Elbe. The port of Am­s­ter­dam is close to the city’s main rail­way sta­tion, with the big sea-bound ships nearby tow­er­ing over you in con­trast.

In a sur­vey car­ried out for the Cruise Lines In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion last year, one of the ques­tions was:“Which is of greater im­por­tance to you, the qual­ity of the fa­cil­i­ties or the choice of des­ti­na­tion?”The ship and its fa­cil­i­ties topped the poll with ease. So make sure you choose care­fully.

Cu­nard Queen Mary 2 Royal Caribbean MSC Cruises; Crys­tal Cruises

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